Podcast: Sodastream “part of the occupation,” says UK-based boycott activist Tony Greenstein

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Shireen Issawi, brother of Palestinian hunger striker Samer Issawi, at a solidarity sit-in protest outside the Red Cross offices in Jerusalem on 15 December.

(Mahfouz Abu Turk / APA images)

“People will see [Sodastream] as anything but green, and anything but progressive. Ethnic cleansing is not green.” - Tony Greenstein, longtime Palestine solidarity activist and member of Jews for Boycotting Israeli Goods

This week on The Electronic Intifada podcast:

Rush transcript - Tony Greenstein on Sodastream boycott campaign

The Electronic Intifada: Outline for us Sodastream as a company, its operations, labor practices; and why it’s such a clear target for BDS.

Tony Greenstein: You’ve asked a hell of a lot. Can I make an introduction — we first had the first Israeli shop, what we know was an Israeli shop, in Covent Garden, about 2 1/2 years called Ahava. It mines, it uses Dead Sea minerals to beautify yourself — when we said occupation is not beautiful, and so on and so forth. And after two years, all the other traders turned against them and told the landlord that their presence was cutting down business, affecting it badly for them, and their lease wasn’t renewed, and we got rid of Ahava.

And that was led by solidarity activists in London, Jews for Boycotting Israeli Goods, many Palestine solidarity activists of all sorts and descriptions. Then, I suppose it must have been just past the summer, I’m not quite sure when Sodastream opened in Brighton — it didn’t call itself Sodastream, it called itself Ecostream — because Brighton has the only Green MP in the whole country, Caroline Lucas … it has a Green council. It’s known as a radical base in the very conservative south of England, and clearly they wanted to tune into “green.” But their idea of what’s green and what our idea of what’s green is somewhat different.

Fortunately, Brighton also has a pretty active and large Palestine solidarity group, and other activists as well — it’s a hive of activity if you like. I’ll make some points. The Palestine issue is not an isolated one. In April, we had the fascist English Defense League, which tried to come into town and march through … and they were driven out basically by all sorts of people, Brighton townspeople, PSC [Palestine Solidarity Committee] was amongst them and you didn’t see any Zionists.

Come the Autumn, we got our act together, we realized this shop was trading and so on. We started Saturday pickets from 1-3, 12-3, something like that. And of course the Zionists weren’t very happy. They started counter-mobilizing, and they did it with Christian fundamentalists from one of these happy-clappy churches as it were, who believe that God gave Jews Palestine 3,500 years ago, and the present people who live there, the Palestinians, are occupiers. That’s their weird mindset — the Palestinians are the occupiers, the Israelis are “returning” if you like.

I have to say that the Zionists mounted, week after week, a counter-demonstration. But the shop got pretty tired of it by all accounts, business wasn’t increasing — quite the contrary. There were two groups of counter-demonstrators having a go at each other, if you were a shopper you’d cross to the other side of the road. Basically the Zionists have pulled out, and they’re thinking of taking legal action — they haven’t disclosed it. We’ve had that before at an arms factory, the Brighton EDOM-BM, when an injunction was brought — it took a year before it was defeated.

So that really is the basis of solidarity that we’ve been having. It’s been Saturdays, but also unexpected ones during the week, in particular Christmas because we want to disrupt their trade as much as possible.

And Sodastream — unlike Ahava, Ahava kept quiet, they said nothing — Sodastream has been very very voluble, politically, defending what they do, and the major reason obviously is that they’re based in Mishor Addumim, it’s an area that’s been ethnically cleansed, it’s between Maale Addumim and Jerusalem, it’s the last area before they can seal it up with the E-1 plan, they have other plants in Israel … but we are quite determined that people will see it as anything but green, and anything but progressive. Ethnic cleansing is not green. That’s one of our slogans.

Their labor practices — they boast that their wages are higher, but in fact anyone that’s involved in the union or active in any way is dismissed. They did have proceedings brought against them … in Israel some years ago because they were paying below the minimum wage, they do now at least pay the minimum wage. But anyone who is active in any way in self-organization will be dismissed, and no doubt the army will insure their bounds through permit controls. They are very much a part of the occupation.

Comments

I disagree that Brighton has a large Palestinian solidarity group, it is sadly only a handful of people. But they do their best. Today as I passed Ecostream I would say that a mere ten activists were demonstrating, but happily I also noticed that the pro Israel groups with their flags held aloft were relegated to the opposite side of the street.
As a independent activist at the opening of this shop I contacted all the local Arab traders in the area calling on them to write to the local MP and also to write to Jason Kitcat who is leader of the council, he,would you believe was the guest opener of this store who at the time said he did not realize that the products were manufactured in the illegal settlements! Inexcusable! Green?? I think not. Naturally I e.mailed and tweeted him of his grave misconceptions. He was not happy! the Brighton/Hove Muslims Womens Group of whom I also contacted of this travesty have done their best in stirring up the Muslim and Christian Arab community

It is said that the road to hell is ful of good intentions and Ms Barnard is well on her way down it, judging by her words. She tells us that she walked past a site of protest on ONE occasion and was then able to make judgements about the PSC movement in Brighton; how strange. I was one of those who came from London on that particular day and arrived 30 minutes late due to rail difficulties. At first numbers were less than half a dozen and the weather very bad. As a group we resolved to stay so as to understand more the sufferings of the Palestinian people . Eventually 12 supporters were to stand in protest with none whatsoever from the Hooligans of Zionism . At a little past 2 pm some persons started to gather on the opposite side of the road with mainly home-made signs and banners but they were perfectly harmless and caused no bother, although they were being spoken to by police just as we were finishing for the day;.They had no influence on the business in hand and they well knew it. Ms Barnard must understand that this group were within their rights to stand outside the shop, as done right at the start of the counter protest ( ably assisted by the police) , but apparently the shop has now asked them to keep away due to the affect on their business.
Passers by showed much interest in offered leaflets and ,as a member of the Ahava protest group, I am able to observe similarities with that now closed business and the level of trade I have seen on each of my Saturday visits. PSC members who live in the area tell me that it is no different at other times in the week.
I wondered why Ms Barnard used the inelegant expression..." stirring up the Muslim / Christian Arab Community". How sad.
From the obvious lack of trade a short lease might well have been a good idea; possibly no more than six months but of course they might think of something else.